Vallam kali-The Boat Race of Kerala

Boat race or Vallam Kali or Vallamkali is the internationally famous boat race of Kerala and every year lakhs of people arrive at Kerala to witness the event. It is a form of canoe racing, and uses paddled war canoes. The boat races are mainly conducted during the Onam season which is the harvest festival of Kerala. Vallam Kali includes races of many kinds of paddled longboats, the traditional boats of Kerala

Vallam Kali or Vallamkali literally means boat play or boat game, but can be translated to boat race in English because it is actually a racing competition between a group of boats, with hundreds of men rowing each boat.

Boat races in Kerala

Boat Race in Action-Kerala

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The competition of Chundan Vallams or snake boats is the most popular event in the Boat race. The Chundan Vallam is approximately 100–120 foot long canoes and are made up of a type of wood locally called as “Aanjili thadi“. Like the neck of an angry snake it curves to a height of fifteen to twenty feet. The prow is pointed and stands four feet above the water with its glistening brass embellishments. The boat can seat about 120 rowers in two rows on both the sides and its movement is like a snake and hence it got the name Snake boat. So the race is also known as Snake boat race in English. The Chundan Vallam also has the record as “the biggest water vessel used for sports purpose“.

Other types of boats which do participate in various events in the race are Churulan Vallam, Iruttukuthy Vallam, Odi Vallam, Veppu Vallam, Vadakkanody Vallam and Kochu Vallam. The Nehru Trophy Boat Race is a popular Vallam Kali event held in the Punnamada Lake near Alappuzha, Kerala, India.

The rhythmic and the synchronized way of rowing the majestic snake boats make it a rare spectacle. The ceremonial water processions, floats and decorated boats add to the beauty of the event. The splendid procession unfolds with all types of ‘Kali-Vallangal‘ or Racing Boats, led by the largest and the most majestic of them, the ‘Chundan‘.

The oarsmen splash the oars in unison with the rhythmic chants and beats of drums. The movements of competing boats are so thrilling that the spectators get a tune with the excited mood of the surrounding uproars.Its rowers sing songs known as ‘ Vanchi pattu ‘ to the rhythm of the oars – a feast for the eyes and the ears.


Vanchipattu or Boat song is the form of poetry in Malayalam language commonly using while Vallam Kali and related festivals. During Aranmula Uthrattadi Vallamkali, the vanchipattu is performed by the participants for its significance in the rituals. Ramapurathu Warrier is considered to be the pioneer of the vanchipattu.

Karichal, Kallooparamban, champakulam, Nadubhagom, Paayipaadu, Kaavalam, Alapaatu, Aanari, Cheruthana, Aayaparambu,karuvatta puthen chunden,karuvatta sree vinayakan, St. George, Jawahar Thaayankari, Vallamkulangara, Valiya Divanji, Sri.Ganesh, Paarthasarathy, Ambedkar, Mutteal Kainakary, Ellikkulam, Vadakkeaattupuram and Deva’s Chundan are the name of popular snake boats who participate in the Chundan Vallam category.

Other categories of boats which participate in various events of the race are Churulan Vallam, Iruttukuthy Vallam, Odi Vallam, Veppu Vallam (Vaipu Vallam), Vadakkanody Vallam and Kochu Vallam.

The preparation for this event begins several week in advance. The best oarsmen are selected from each village and under the supervision of the senior most oarsmen, the practice sessions begin. Around 150 oarsmen, who would represent the village, take the vow to observe strict abstinence and celibacy till the oars to each of them. They have special diet known as Valla Sadhya the mass feast.

The popular Boat races of Kerala are

Major events

  • Nehru Trophy Boat Race in Punnamada Lake, Alappuzha, Alappuzha District
  • Aranmula Uthrattadi Vallamkali at Aranmula, Pampa River, Pathanamthitta District
  • President’s Trophy Boat Race in Ashtamudi lake, Kollam, Kollam District
  • Kallada Boat Race in Kallada River, Kollam District
  • Pampa Boat Race in Neerattupuram, Pampa River, Alappuzha District
  • Champakulam Moolam Boat Race, Champakulam River,  Alappuzha District
  • Payippad Jalotsavam, Payippad River, the oldest snake boat race
  • Kumarakom Boat Race, Kottayam District
  • Kannetty Sree Narayana Boat Race, Karunagappally, Kollam District
  • Thazhathangadi Boat Race, Kottayam, Kottayam District-The first boat race that was conducted in a scientifically organized manner.
  • Gothuruth Boat Race, since 1938, in the Periyar, Ernakulam District
  • Piravom Boat Race in Piravom- Boat race against the flow of river, Ernakulam District

Minor events

Next: Nehru Trophy Vallam Kali

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